Ohio House Passes Lottery-Run Sports Wagering Proposal, But Legalization Still Unclear

On Thursday, the Ohio House passed a sports betting bill by an 83-10 vote, putting the policy proposal in the hands of the Senate.
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Will Ohioans be able to wager on sports in the not-too-distant future?

The odds improved Thursday, as the Ohio House overwhelmingly approved a bill to bring legal sports wagering to the state. The proposal, House Bill 194, needed nine hearings to reach this stage in the process.

The Ohio Senate has its own version on the table for consideration in the weeks and months ahead.

Ohio, the nation’s seventh-most populous state, is a top prize for the nascent U.S. sports betting industry. Its annual handle could eventually eclipse what is seen in New Jersey, the current online/mobile betting king.

A casino industry study found that Ohioans could eventually wager more than $9 billion each year on sports. Wagering is already happening in Ohio, through either local bookies or unregulated offshore sites. It’s estimated that billions of dollars are being wagered through those channels each year.

Hurdles remain

HB 194 would put regulation of sports wagering under the Ohio Lottery, with some involvement from the Ohio Casino Control Commission. The Senate version, Senate Bill 111, would have the OCCC regulate.

Both bills would allow for online/mobile sportsbooks, in addition to retail locations. HB 194 calls for a 10% tax rate on industry revenues, while SB 111 calls for 6.25%. Anything in between would be industry friendly.

Ohio has four Las Vegas-style casinos and seven racinos.

Sponsors of HB 194 believe their bill squares with the Ohio Constitution on gambling. They don’t think the OCCC has the authority to administer sports wagering within the Buckeye State.

The Senate appears to be an even higher hurdle to clear before Ohioans can have legal sportsbooks.

The good news here is that the House put the ball in the hands of the Senate to get something done on negotiations before the end of 2020. Ohio’s session doesn’t end until the very end of the year.

Most industry observers anticipate Ohio policymakers will come to some sort of compromise.

State Rep. Brigid Kelly, a co-sponsor of HB 194, cited the ongoing public health crisis as putting an even greater focus on trying to ensure gaming dollars remain within Ohio. In addition to illegal wagering, Ohioans are traveling to Indiana, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia to place legal bets on their smartphones.

Michigan is also expected to kick off online/mobile betting late in 2020 or early in 2021.

Editorial credit: Henryk Sadura / Shutterstock.com

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